A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge (book review).

May 9, 2022 | By | 4 Replies More

It is only from the introduction by Ken Macleod that I learn that after Vernor Vinge wrote ‘A Fire Upon The Deep’ (1991), he wrote the prequel story, ‘A Deepness In The Sky’ (1999) and the sequel, ‘The Children Of The Sky’ (2011). The thought did occur to me as to whether I should locate the prequel or read them as written. There is also the thought that if there is a need for a prequel, perhaps things weren’t developed in this novel. Take your choices.

Opting to read this book first, you really are chucked in the deep end with kids playing a game and only 60 pages in are we introduced to Pham Nuwen, the captain of a spacecraft travelling at sub-light speed between star systems. At least, I think he was the captain as there was no definite lead throughout this book.

About half-way through the book it is more apparent that this is activities on board a spaceship but not how much of it is metaphor for what is going on. I know there is tendency, as with introductions, to rapidly read changes in fonts to italics and whathaveyou, but the messages here are supposed to be giving clues to what is going on.

I know it can be healthy to be thrown into the deep end of an SF story and build up a pattern of events over the course of the story but I came to the end of this one still not sure what is going on. Were the battles a fantasy of a long distance space flight or really happened because there were fatal casualties at the end? These battles were somewhat fantasy orientated. The mentions of the spacecraft were sparse. Reading the back cover didn’t make any connection nor some research on-line.

This doesn’t mean Vernor Vinge is a bad writer as I didn’t skim, just that I was left bewildered what it was all about and should I care at the end. It isn’t your normal space opera type of story so if it sounds appealing for its fantasy element, then it might suit you. This is one of those odd times where I’m not sure why it would be regarded as a masterpiece.

GF Willmetts

May 2022

(pub: Gollancz SF Masterworks, 2016. 579 page small enlarged paperback. : I pulled my copy for about £ 9.00 (UK).  ISBN: 978-1-473-21195-7)

check out website: www.gollancz.com and www.sfgateway.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (4)

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  1. DMcCunney says:

    Er, Geoff? The title refereed to in the review is A Fire Upon the Deep, but what you *reviewed* was A Deepness in the Sky.

    A Fire Upon the Deep won a well deserved Hugo Award when it was released.

    The three mentioned books are part of a series called “Zones of Thought” The underlying premise is that the speed of light is a *local* limitation.

    The galaxy is divided into concentric zones. From the core of the galaxy out to an ill defined point is the Slow zone. The speed of light is the higest speed possible. Get past that, and you are in the Beyond, where energies that travel many times faster than light become available, and things like FTL travel become possible. The Beyond is sub-divided into Low, Middle, and High levels, with increasing capabilities the farther out you go. Go even farther, and you are in the Transcend, where entities can attain god like powers. and Transcendence refers to them doing so. (Those entities are all AIs. It’s unclear whether organic lifeforms *can* Transcend.)

    To make it more fun, the Zones affect organic cognition too. The closer you get to the enter to the core,the stupider you become. Being aware of where the Zone limits are is a plot element in the books, with the issue that you won’t realize you have blundered into the Slow Zone rill you are there. and face the challenge of getting back out in a reasonable time frame, because no FTL.

    Earth is in the Slow zone, but humans using sub-light vessels reached the Beyond in a period before the book. The main human protagonist of A Fire Upon the Deep is a human female from a world called Skandra Kej, who works for a galactic ISP. Her employer is one of the few that maintains a network connection to the Beyond in a neighboring galaxy. A lot of the book consists of messages posted to a galactic message system that looks a lot like Usenet did back when. No surprise, as Vinge was around and active in tat period.

    A survey ship from Skandra Kej has discovered an abandoned planet with an archive lost for millennia. In the process of opening and exploring that archive, the survey ship unwittingly releases a malignant AI entity that promptly starts trying to take over and control the Beyond, with drastic effects on the entire galaxy.

    A Deepness in the Sky is a prequel, in the sense that it takes place chronologically earlier than A Fire Upon the Deep, but this is *not* a set to be read in series order.If you haven’t read A Fire Upon the Deep, you will be mystified, because a lot of th3e underlying background that will make it comprehensible is provided in A Fire Upon the Deep.

    A Fire Upon the Deep popularized the notion of the Singularity, expressed as “What happens when your machines become smarter than *you* are?” But the problem with a singularity is that you dont (and probably *can’t*) know what’s on the other side. Vinge backed away from the series and went on to other things precisely *because* he had no idea what was on the other side of that singularity.

    Try again, after actually reading A Fire Upon the Deep?

    • UncleGeoff says:

      Hello Dennis
      Well, unless the contents didn’t match the cover, I read ‘A Fire Unpon The Deep’. The indicia says 1991, its original release.
      What you’re describing does not match the book’s content.

  2. BraviLimaPoppa says:

    That review got me to pull out my copy and check Wikipedia. DMcCunney does a very good job of summarizing the series and the book. Whatever you read, it’s not Fire Upon the Deep.

    I’d suggest pulling this review or editing it to reflect what you’ve actually read.

    • UncleGeoff says:

      I think the best way is for you to pull a copy of the Gollancz edition. They’ve had it out over a decade now and see what you think by looking at the book itself.

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